Quite A “Sane” Ending

Having recorded it on Thursday evening (when it was shown here in Britain), last night I finally watched the series finale of Mad Men.

Screen capture of IMDB.
Screen capture of IMDB.

I had been studiously avoiding “spoilers” online – something not easy to do when it seemed half of America was tweeting about it when it was broadcast there on May 17. Somehow, I managed it.

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Sneak Peek: The Beginning (Warning: Contains Spoiler)

As we know, Amazon makes the first 10 percent of a Kindle book, as well as the first pages of a print version (although not nearly so many pages as for the Kindle), available for free reading online. I suspect that is gradually altering writing; I know it’s impacting mine. For given that potential readers get to sample only the beginning of your hard work that could stretch on for several hundred additional complex pages, it seems increasingly important that novels commence with “a bang.”

That said, and as you also may know, I don’t do “gunfire”; but I always seek to grab. Passports opens with an optimistic, pleasant, meeting in a college class, but one also loaded with various signs lots more is gonna happen here from every direction and then some. Frontiers starts with something of a “shocker” that is deliberately meant to lead a Passports reader briefly to think: “Wait. What?”

Now, given the reality its first pages will again be visible online anyway eventually, I thought I’d share the planned beginning to Distances.

Passports (Part 1), Frontiers (Part 2), Distances (upcoming Part 3).
Passports (Part 1), Frontiers (Part 2), Distances (upcoming Part 3).

A word of warning: There is a substantive “spoiler” in this “sneak peek.”

So, to borrow from a television sports reporter who says before revealing a final score for a game that will be broadcast only later on “tape delay,” if you are interested in reading the first two books and have not, and don’t like “spoilers,” CLICK HERE (and I’ll redirect you safely to yesterday’s post). ;-)

Whether or not you choose to read on, have a good weekend, wherever you are. :-)

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The Lovely Canines In Our Lives

Our friends’ 11 year old female black labrador collapsed the other day. They got her to the vet. But before the vet could do anything, she was gone.

Hearing that sad news, I immediately thought of her as a puppy on a 2005 Isles of Scilly holiday she’d been on with us all. Funny how on hearing such bad news one instantly recalls that sort of thing. I have photos of her on a PC in America during that trip. She was an absolute little star.

Our own 10 year old hound (half English springer spaniel/ half labrador: a “springador“) is now living with my in-laws in London. We’ve moved and traveled so much in recent years, they had him for months at a time and eventually just took him in “semi-permanently.” Although he has been twice to France on holidays with us, that is the extent of his foreign travel; he couldn’t be packed up like cargo flown back and forth repeatedly to America with us: we wouldn’t have ever subjected him to that “treatment.” (I’ve read Air France allows dogs in the cabin, but they can’t be more than 10 kilos. We have thought, hmm, maybe a strict, pre-flight diet? ;-) )

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Confronting National Stereotypes

Yesterday, I had a terrible headache which virtually incapacitated me all day. I’m not 100 percent my old self yet, but I finally feel a bit better this morning. I can at least function. (When I get a headache, I can become very ill.)

While I was waiting for the pain to subside, I stumbled on this on Twitter from the Matador Network. It’s an entertaining travel and international site, which (full disclosure) also follows me on Twitter. I thought it was worth a blog post:

Twitter screen capture.
Twitter screen capture.

The tweets that went back in response were about what you might expect. However, one of them included an old canard. It’s hard to tell if the tweeter, apparently a man, was joking; he may well have been trying to be lighthearted. The sixth tweet down: it’s about women who (apparently use too much) perfume and don’t shave (under their arms):

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“It is America. Everyone goes to university!”

The first two novels laid the groundwork. As they are an ongoing tale (although could be read as stand alone books) with most of the same characters, writing them I’m naturally with them for years – literally – watching them change. And I’ve said before that, given their ages, that some of them even feel at times sorta like adult kids of my own.

Who’s my favorite? I’m not saying: What “parent” would ever answer that? They are by now so distinctive in my mind I think of each of them are pretty remarkable (in both good and not so good ways), and I can’t honestly say any one of them is “my favorite.”

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a classroom with a teacher.
Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a classroom with a teacher.

In Distances, “Béatrice” will finally visit the United States. She won’t be going to New York or other tourist spots, though, only to New England. She’ll see one part of New England in particular:

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Spinning Out Of Control

I’m sure some of you reading this were born in the late 1980s and 1990s. The era of which I write about in the novels is therefore in a real sense “history” to you. It pre-dates either your consciousness of the wider world…. or even your birth itself! ;-)

Strasbourg, France. Home of the European Parliament. [Photo by me, 1996.]
Strasbourg, France. Home of the European Parliament. [Photo by me, 1996.]

It’s trite to point out that one can’t hope to begin to understand the present without understanding the past; yet it’s absolutely true. And trying to appreciate the human outlook of any “past” is a vital aspect of that effort. This article in Die Zeit about Germany’s attitude and approach to the world since 1989 could in large measure apply elsewhere in Europe as well as to the U.S.A.:

A quarter of a century after the fall of the Berlin Wall … we’ve woken up and it feels like a bad dream….

….Crisis has become the new normal. The years between 1990 and now were the exception.

The psychological repercussions of this fundamentally new situation on Europe’s political elites are both brutal and curious at the same time. Those aged 45 to 65 currently in positions of power have only known growing prosperity, freedom and cultural sophistication. They were, and to a large extent still are, predisposed to exert themselves only modestly, act responsibly and expect that they could enjoy the fruits of their labor. And suddenly history has unceremoniously grabbed them by the scruff of the neck. Do we really need to fight now? More than ever? And what does our cardiologist have to say?

I’m sharing that article and writing this post because that piece hit me hard. I fall into the “early part” of that age group; but I was certainly not “powerful” in 1989. (Nor am I now!) Speaking here only for myself, of course, I also vividly recall the post-fall of the Berlin Wall atmosphere: it fills my novels and is meant to do so.

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Lunchtime Impromptu Book Club

I’ve gotten into War and Remembrance a bit now. It being lunchtime (and after I’d spent much of the morning with “Mark” and “James” and struggling with two – that’s right, two – pages), as I eat my sandwich here at my desk I thought I’d share some initial thoughts on Herman Wouk’s incredible tome.

War and Remembrance, sitting on my desk. [Photo by me, 2015.]
War and Remembrance, sitting on my desk. [Photo by me, 2015.]

Allowing for its age (it’s worth always bearing in mind it’s 40 to 50 year old writing), it’s an excellent book overall so far. However, aspects of Remembrance are not anything I would want to emulate. Even more so than with The Winds of War, I’m seeing certain things style-wise in Remembrance that no novelist should really want even accidentally to replicate.

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The World’s Sexiest Nationality?

Previously, this blog has dutifully shared what we are informed are “the most attractive accents” in the world. Now this, as reported by a well-respected Irish media outlet. Understand, it is offered here purely for any “research and reference” purposes you may have:

Screen capture of the Irish Times.
Screen capture of the Irish Times.

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Politically Speaking…. Let’s Not

As you may know, there will be a British general (meaning United Kingdom wide) election on May 7. We will shortly find out if Prime Minister David Cameron (who heads a coalition government led by his Conservatives allied with a smaller “centrist” party called the Liberal Democrats), will run the British government for another five years, or if there will be a new prime minister (who would most likely be Labour opposition leader Ed Miliband). Currently, polls seem to indicate that it’s “too close to call.”

View of the Wiltshire countryside, taken next to the Westbury White Horse last Sunday. [Photo by me, 2015]
View of the Wiltshire countryside, taken next to the Westbury White Horse last Sunday. [Photo by me, 2015]

I don’t vote here in the United Kingdom, although I hope to someday after I become a British citizen. However, as a taxpayer, I feel I’ve got a right at least to a modest opinion. But I’m not sharing that here, and you probably don’t want to hear it anyway.

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Sneak Peek: Relaxing (Too Much?) Over Beers

“James” had not been a international traveller. He had never been to Europe until he visited France for the first time at age 29. Subsequently, he would find himself in various encounters with other Americans in Europe.

One example was a retired soldier who truly inspired him:

“I parachuted near here on D-Day,” he announced.

Another was an expat who left him feeling puzzled:

“We’re from L.A.,” she said. “My husband works in Paris, and we’re on vacation. He had to go to the States for a time by himself. I thought the boys would like to see Normandy.” She concluded as one of her sons gestured restlessly that he wanted to sit on her lap and she waved a hand trying to dissuade him.

And another was a study abroad student who turned him off totally:

“Natalie,” James interrupted in turn, “this Amber isn’t really an average American girl, trust me. She sounds demented.”

He hadn’t really made an American friend while he was abroad.

Time for another “sneak peek.”

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